How to prevent psychosocial hazards in the workplace

Lack of balance and poor organizational culture creates poor working conditions for employees

How to prevent psychosocial hazards in the workplace

For safety professionals, looking out for worker mental health is more important than ever. The pandemic has significantly impacted employee morale, leading to a worrying rise in issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.

For those working from home or having to take on more shifts due to COVID, work-life balance has also been a problem. Nevertheless, outside of the pandemic, there are a number of organizational factors that can negatively impact worker mental health – these are referred to as psychosocial hazards.

“A psychological hazard is any hazard that affects the mental well-being or mental health of the worker by overwhelming individual coping mechanisms and impacting the worker’s ability to work in a healthy and safe manner,” writes Ben Davis for MVOrganizing.

1. What are examples of psychosocial hazards in the workplace?

What does a psychosocial hazard look like? Low job control is one. This is when employees are not involved in decisions that impact the way they work. Poor support from management and coworkers is another, leading workers feeling isolated and adrift. This also feeds into another psychosocial hazard, which is poor workplace relationships.

Safety professionals need to be aware of these hazards, this is why communication is such an important part of the job. OHS pros need to engage with workers (and management) to be better able to figure out ways to enhance an employee’s mental and physical safety.

2. What affects psychosocial hazards?

There are a significant number of elements in each workplace that could be negatively affecting workers and creating these psychosocial hazards. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) points to engagement, balance, organizational culture, workload management, psychological protection and protection of physical safety as factors.

On the topic of physical safety for example, the CCOHS says that “failure to protect physical safety results in workplaces that are likely to be more dangerous. Not only could employees be injured or develop illnesses, those who do not see their workplace as physically safe will feel less secure and less engaged.”

3. How can psychosocial risks affect productivity?

Typically, happier and more engaged workers are more productive. And while worker safety should be an absolute priority, organizations should understand that worker safety also impacts their bottom line. Being able to understand the financial risks incurred by poor safety is a great way for safety professionals to engage with management on ways to improve worker safety and eliminate psychosocial hazards.

4. Tips on how to prevent psychosocial hazards:

a. Identify the hazards. Firstly, you will want to identify which psychosocial hazards may potentially be causing harm to workers. While most organizations do not set out to deliberately harm their employees, poor management or lack of feedback may have lead to an environment where these types of hazards thrive. The first step to solving the issue is figuring out what it actually is.

b. assess the risks. Not all risks are equal, some psychosocial hazards may be more immediately harmful than others – similarly to doing a ‘regular’ safety risk assessment. Most safety professionals should already be equipped with these analytical tools.

c. Each hazard has a different approach, apply what is necessary. As stated before, not all risks are equal and no two hazards are the same. Depending on what the hazards are, each may require a unique approach. You may need to consult with different people (workers, managers), figure out a budget and come up with an adapted timeline.

d. Raise awareness. Workers may not know that they are at risk of psychosocial hazards, and organizations may not know they are creating them. The safety professional is the perfect middleman (or woman) to navigate these issues with each group and this is why, as we said before, that being an effective communicator is such a key skill to possess.

e. Take preventative or corrective action. Put into place controls to help eliminate or mitigate these psychosocial hazards. Not all risks can be eliminated, this is why it is crucial to have a plan in place to counter the negative effects of these hazards.

f. Have senior management commit to reduce workplace stress. Broadly, a good and safe workplace culture is built from the top down. Safety professionals need to make management aware of the role that they can play in reducing psychosocial risks for workers. Many of these hazards can create issues such as stress or anxiety among workers. With mental health awareness being more broad than ever before, senior management need to commit to creating a workplace that effectively reduces worker stressors.

g. Communicate with the employees to create a mentally healthy workplace. Finally, ask employees how they are feeling. Ask them for their suggestions. May them feel like their voices are being heard and engage with them to create a workplace that is more mentally and physical safe.